Ad/Campaign: Guinness Surfer ‘Good things come to those who wait.’

Agency: Abbot Mead Vickers BBDO London

Creatives: Tom Carty, Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer (Director)

“He waits… That what he does… And I tell you what; Tick followed tock followed tick followed tock followed tick…”

Sometimes the best copy for an advert doesn’t come as the result of countless hours spent staring at a wall trying to come up with the perfect balance of creativity, intelligence and commercial impact. Copy that will hit the consumer head on and make them say ‘Wow’. Sometimes classic copy is derived from just that. The classics…

Every once in a while an ad comes along that just blows everyone away. Every element fits together. The concept, the copy, the visuals, the pace, the direction and most importantly the message.

When Copywriter Tom Carty and Art director Walter Campbell came up with the concept for the 1999 Guinness ‘Surfers’ commercial they ticked every one of those boxes.


Carty and Campbell were struggling to come up with a tag line for this thick, draught stout. How could they compete in a market swamped with cold and refreshing lagers? A viscous beverage that took a notoriously long time to serve? They went back to basics and withdrew to their local pub (If in doubt!)  After hours of trying to think of a hook they latched on to the serving time. They sat and timed how long it took to pour the ‘perfect  pint of Guinness.’ 119.5 seconds. They had their jump off point. Turning this seemingly negative aspect into a positive “Good things come to those who wait” was born.

Taking inspiration from the famous 1893 Walter Crane painting ‘Neptune’s Horses’, Carty and Campbell concocted the gorgeous premise of a group of surfers waiting for the perfect wave. With acclaimed ad director Jonathan Glazer in tow they headed to Hawaii in search of the perfect wave. They found the star of the piece, a gentleman by the name of ‘Rusty K’, asleep under a palm tree. Not a particularly great surfer himself, Rusty did have the perfect look Glazer was looking for. A Polynesian surfer with a war torn and weathered face that looked as though he had waited his entire life for the perfect wave, this once in a lifetime experience. The shoot took 9 days, including perfect wave and wipeout footage as well as the blue screen and layering of the white leaping horses over the wave breaks.

“The old sailors return to the bar, HERES TO YOU AHAB!”

The time and effort spent was worth it. The Guinness surfers ad won more awards than any other commercial in 1999 including Clio’s, D&AD’s and Cannes Lions. It was voted the best ad of all time in 2002 in a poll conducted by channel 4 and the Sunday Times.

“And the drummer hit the beat with all his heart.”

The commercial was incredible and did wonders for Guinness, previously a stout that was deemed an old man’s drink. Bottom line, the whole thing was just… cool. This was owed in no small part to the building menace that the ad conveyed by both Glazer’s pacey direction and the use of music (always a major component in a commercial) the muffled beat of a tune called ‘Leftfield’ by Phat Planet that added to the raw animalistic appeal of the piece. The commercial was even shot in black and white giving a more authentic feel as well as keeping with the colouring of a pint of guinness.

The copy? A simple but stirring passage from Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick. A war cry like piece of text that fit the creative imagery perfectly and also struck a chord with a new young market who were seeking their own ‘White Whale’ of success in a competitive and unforgiving world. This new audience were now queuing at the bar for this stout that was world weary with experience (Guinness since 1759) but at the same time incredibly cool and current. They already knew that they would be in for a slightly longer wait than if they were to choose a lager. In fact they knew that it would take exactly 119.5 seconds for their pint to be poured. Fortunately they also knew…

“Good things come to those who wait…”


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